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Home is a Three Syllable Word​

Anitha Devi Pillai

Torn and tattered migrant children

raised on folklores from forefathers’ land

and local ones too when in schools.


Singapore —

my paternal family’s adopted land

that they once abandoned

when the British forces pulled out

returning to their place of birth once again.

The Singapur wallahs spend years

longing for kin left behind and chicken rice.

Their hearts lie buried here.


Malaysia —

Stage whispers of my maternal family

never returning back

mars all of our conversations.

The fossilized Malaya Malayalees

grasp tightly to food and clothes

and whenever possible the language too

of their imagined Home.

Kerala —

God’s own country where my ancestors lived in

ancient grand tharavads.  

Their matrilineal ties bind      

families across the faraway oceans    

to unknown faces and accents.

Their practices that I do not comprehend

I imbibe — no questions.


I seek refuge in the answers.

Often belonging just everywhere

and sometimes really nowhere.

[1] Singapur wallahs - An informal Indian English term to address a person who is ‘from Singapore’. Interestingly, many of those who returned to Kerala in the 60s and 70s were always referred to as ‘the man/woman from Singapore/Malaya’ for the rest of their lives.

[2] Malaya Malayalees are natives of Kerala who migrated to what was known then as the Federation of Malaya during the British era. The Federation of Malaya included what is now Malaysia and Singapore.

[3] Tharavads is a Malayalam word for ancestral homes in Kerala, India, where joint families lived under one roof especially amongst the Nair communities. The Nair community was traditionally a matrilineal society and their descendants often have names that include the name of their tharavads.  


This syllabic verse poem was first published in SARE: Southeast Asian Review of English Journal in 2019.

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